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Creative Advice From Marina Abramovic, Olafur Eliasson, Miranda July, And Other Artists From “Akademie X”

Akademie X: Lessons In Art + Life,” a self-described “art school without walls,” assembles creative wisdom from a group of famous artists. Here’s a sampling.

Describing itself as “art school without walls,” Akademie X: Lessons In Art + Life brings together three dozen artists–including Marina Abramović, Ólafur Elíasson, Tim Rollins, Dan Graham, Miranda July, and Richard Wentworth–who share insights about how to foster creativity and produce original work.

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Their advice, dispensed via interviews, letters, lists and illustrations, varies wildly.

Performance artist Marina Abramović urges connecting with nature: “An artist should stay for long periods of times at waterfalls… at exploding volcanos… at fast-running rivers” she writes. New York artist Mark Dion likes to organize scavenger hunts as a creativity kickstarter for his students. Miranda July concludes her “origins story” by observing: “The things keeping you back–these embarrassing, boring, stupid obstacles–are the heart of what it is to be human. They’re the whole reason for making and needing art. So you might as well go ahead and begin in whatever way you can right now.”

Contributor Dara Birnbaum, a video artist who teaches at the School of Visual Arts, tells Co.Create, “In this book you find 36 very distinct voices sharing real stories and experiences, saying ‘Do it this way,’ ‘No do it that way.’ You realize there are all these voices, and as an artist, you’ve got to find your own.”

Here’s a sampling of work and wisdom excerpted from Akademie X, in stores February 23.

Be Your Own Best Spokesperson

New York multimedia artist Sanford Biggers recommends that artists learn how to talk up their own projects. “The days of the artist as savant/naïf are so 19th century,” he writes. “There is really no good excuse for not being the most knowledgeable and articulate spokesperson for your own work. Practice writing and speaking about what you do, and read other artists’ writings as well. There will be a time when you are called upon to express your thoughts, and…you don’t want to sound like a dumbass when you do engage.”

Hunker Down

Biggers also suggests that art makers hone their tunnel vision. “If you want a normal life get a normal job,” he writes. “You will work so hard and long that people will have to send out search parties for you. Understand that being an artist means: ‘Sleep? Oh yeah. I remember that.’ You will miss so many social or fun events that you’ll make monks look like party animals.”

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Live Cheap

Brooklyn-based painter Carrie Moyer includes practical advice among her musings. “Move someplace cheap for a while so you don’t need 10 freelance jobs to support your studio practice,” she writes. To pay the rent, “Try out jobs that have nothing to do with art. Nonconforming life choices will enrich everything you do.”

Olafur Eliasson’s The weather project, 2003,
Photo: Jens Ziehe, courtesy Olafur Eliasson; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

Brainstorm With Interesting Strangers

Danish installation artist/sculptor Olafur Eliasson takes an intensely social approach to inspire what he calls “thinking doing.” A co-founder of The Institute for Spatial Experiments, Eliasson recommends group activities that include organizing workshops with strangers who are doing “interesting-sounding things,” laughing in public for five straight minutes and walking backwards through the street. He writes, “We believe in getting out of our comfort zone…in causing the world to wobble differently depending where we stand. We like the world wobbling differently.”

Take Your Time

Several Akademie X contributors stress the importance of allowing ideas to gestate at their own pace. Photographer Christopher Williams writes “So many young artists I meet…are in a hurry because they feel if they’re not a success right out of the gate, they’re gong to be a lifelong failure. I encourage you to take a much longer arc, to take it easy and do it for the long haul. Sometimes students…mistake the social aspects associated with success for actually making a successful artwork. Don’t confuse the two things.”


Beware the Zeitgeist

Artists vying for attention in a trend-driven marketplace might be tempted to pack their work with contemporary references, but German painter Neo Rauch sounds a cautionary note. He writes “Good painting is timeless…in the sense that it’s free of issues that drag on over the decades, their popularity waxing and waning. Anything bound up too much in the zeitgeist should be kept out.”

Instead, Rauch continues “Paintings are suggestive by virtue of their individuality… If something is individual, then it can put viewers under its spell. It has a certain magnetic pull that stops viewers in their tracks and draws them towards the wall where the picture shines out at them.”


Make Art As If You’re Walking a Tight Rope

New Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective organizes three-hour wine drinking discussions to spawn fresh thinking. They also motivate students to think about art-making as a form of controlled risk by studying Paul Klee’s 1923 Tightrope Walker and watching daredevil documentary Man on Wire. The Collective members write, “As artists, you will have to learn to walk the tightrope of your choosing, a walk between sobriety and intoxication.”

About the author

Los Angeles freelancer Hugh Hart covers movies, television, art, design and the wild wild web (for San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and New York Times). A former Chicagoan, Hugh also walks his Afghan Hound many times a day and writes twisted pop songs.

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